Understanding Suicide-bombing through Halo 3

An interesting perspective:

Whenever I find myself under attack by a wildly superior player, I
stop trying to duck and avoid their fire. Instead, I turn around and
run straight at them. I know that by doing so, I'm only making it
easier for them to shoot me — and thus I'm marching straight into the
jaws of death. Indeed, I can usually see my health meter rapidly
shrinking to zero.

But at the last second, before I die, I'll whip out a sticky plasma
grenade — and throw it at them. Because I've run up so close, I almost
always hit my opponent successfully. I'll die — but he'll die too, a
few seconds later when the grenade goes off. (When you pull off the
trick, the game pops up a little dialog box noting that you killed
someone "from beyond the grave.")

It was after pulling this maneuver a couple of dozen times that it
suddenly hit me: I had, quite unconsciously, adopted the tactics of a
suicide bomber — or a kamikaze pilot.

It's not just that I'm willing to sacrifice my life to kill someone
else. It's that I'm exploiting the psychology of asymmetrical warfare.

Because after all, the really elite Halo players don't want
to die. If they die too often, they won't win the round, and if they
don't win the round, they won't advance up the Xbox Live rankings. And
for the elite players, it's all about bragging rights.

I, however, have a completely different psychology. I know I'm the underdog; I know I'm probably going to get killed anyway. I am never going to advance up the Halo 3 rankings, because in the political economy of Halo, I'm poor.

Specifically, I'm poor in time. The best players have
dozens of free hours a week to hone their talents, and I don't have
that luxury. This changes the relative meaning of death for the two of
us. For me, dying will not penalize me in the way it penalizes them,
because I have almost no chance of improving my state. I might as well
take people down with me.

Or to put it another way: The structure of Xbox Live creates a world
composed of two classes — haves and have-nots. And, just as in the
real world, some of the disgruntled have-nots are all too willing to
toss their lives away — just for the satisfaction of momentarily
halting the progress of the haves. Since the game instantly resurrects
me, I have no real dread of death in Halo 3.

But before you get all outraged.. 

I do not mean, of course, to trivialize the ghastly, horrific impact
of real-life suicide bombing. Nor do I mean to gloss over the
incredible complexity of the real-life personal, geopolitical and
spiritual reasons why suicide bombers are willing to kill themselves.
These are all impossibly more nuanced and perverse than what's
happening inside a trifling, low-stakes videogame.

But the fact remains that something quite interesting happened to me because of Halo.
Even though I've read scores of articles, white papers and books on the
psychology of terrorists in recent years, and even though I have (I
think) a strong intellectual grasp of the roots of suicide terrorism,
something about playing the game gave me an "aha" moment that I'd never
had before: an ability to feel, in whatever tiny fashion, the strategic logic and emotional calculus behind the act.

I get what he is talking about. Do you? 

0 comment on Understanding Suicide-bombing through Halo 3

  1. Adam B.
    November 30, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    Not really.

    Dying in a game is momentary, as indeed he mentions himself. Dying in real life is terminal. There is no message of killing someone “from beyond the grave”. More importantly though is the fact that in the game, someone IS trying to kill him without mercy. In real life, the only ones that are trying to kill anyone without mercy are the suicide bombers themselves. Everyone else is just trying to defend themselves…

  2. AF
    November 30, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    ” Everyone else is just trying to defend themselves..”

    haha, yeah right! Life must be a really simple black and white mosaic for you adam, must be nice.

  3. The Raccoon
    November 30, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    He’d be right if suicide bombers were really ‘have-nots’ murdering ‘haves’.

    They ain’t, though.

    Now, if he would get sucked off every times he suicide killed someone, that would be a comparable experience.

  4. mikek
    December 1, 2007 at 7:29 am

    “I get what he is talking about. Do you?”

    I hope I don’t get it. If that is the way it works it is pathetic.

    “I suck at everything, maybe I can take someone with me.”

    It looks like most Palestinian wounds are self inflicted anyway. Throwing a grenade on your video game guys foot (if it is the same Halo it will stick) would make more sense.

  5. Don Cox
    December 1, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    “Dying in real life is terminal. ”

    Suicide bombers don’t believe that. They do expect to immediately transfer to some kind of good place, with a continuation of consciousness.

  6. Saul Wall
    December 2, 2007 at 3:02 am

    Understanding “the strategic logic and emotional calculus behind the act” is useful and avoiding it simply because it repulses you is a luxury that we can not afford. One of the greatest problems in all conflicts is misinterpreting the motives of your enemy because the motives you substitute feel better when attributed to them.

    Terrorists may not be poor but, like this “time poor” gamer, they are poor in something – they are “success poor”. If they had an option that could inflict real damage on the the unbelievers and insufficiently zealous Muslims they would use it but they do not. As a result, they need to convince themselves that the fear and division and uncertainty which terror inflicts is somehow weakening their opponents and makes Islam look strong. As long as they can maintain this belief they can justify the tactic.

  7. Josh Scholar
    December 2, 2007 at 3:17 am

    He is SO full of shit!

    Suicide bombing comes entirely from Islam. Mohammad told his troops that the ONLY sure way into heaven is to die in battle. He also had his revelation that Jihad (attacking infidels) is a requirement of all Muslims.

    So what happens when you can’t find some infidel to send you to heaven (and give a key to heaven to your family and friends)? Why you blow up a poor old women on the bus, or children in a pizza shop, or elderly impoverished Jewish men at a charity dinner, or guests at a little girls party – and call that a jihad.


    Oh and your writer can suck my dick while he’s at it.

  8. Adam B.
    December 2, 2007 at 10:06 am

    2. AF:

    Please elaborate. Tell me who, aside from his own comrades, is forcing the suicide bomber into doing what he is doing. Tell me what the rest of the world is doing that is forcing terrorists to blow up people.

    Yes, generally my world is that black and white, and I’m a much happier person for it – try it someday. 🙂

    5. Don Cox:

    I know what you mean, but it’s a truth with moderations… How do they justify killing 9 innocent bystanders for every ‘opponent’ they bring down? It goes for all terrorists, but in this case, as muslims, they would be commiting the greatest sin by killing innocent muslims in the proccess. Often the ONLY victims of their bombings are other muslims, so it can hardly be categorized under ‘jihad’, can it…?

  9. Faisal
    December 2, 2007 at 10:38 am

    I do the same in counter-strike when surrounded or faced with a superior player.

    I totally get what he’s talking about… in the game and outside it.

  10. Noor S.
    December 4, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    “Suicide bombing comes entirely from Islam. Mohammad told his troops that the ONLY sure way into heaven is to die in battle. He also had his revelation that Jihad (attacking infidels) is a requirement of all Muslims.”

    Afraid you’ve got that all wrong. Suicide bombing doesn’t come from Islam, it comes from fanatical terrorists. He told them that they would be rewarded if they died defending their faith. When it was a neccessity. If under attack from anyone for their religion, they should die fighting for it, not looking for a fight.

  11. Thrash
    December 4, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    Giving ones life for a cause is an ancient thing; it has appeared in Egypt, China, Japan, India, & Rome. Many would’ve given their life gladly for the bidding of the emperor or for the orders of a commander. Just because it’s done now with chemistry (explosives) doesn’t mean that the idea is totally new. In other words: it has existed long before islam, Christianity, or Judaism.

  12. Blacklander
    December 7, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    I’d like to see the US under Russian occupation, with no fancy gadgets, no B-52s, no action-movie soldiers, just people occupied.
    I wonder if they would learn to bend over and take it without moaning or eventually one of them would decide to blow himself up in some Russians after they kill his baby sister.

    Suicide bombing is about revenge, no more, no less. You can bet on your most valuable belonging that it takes so much pain to cause your own death, a pain that is definitely not self-inflicted.
    But this is a digression, which brings me back to the original point, to all those who think suicide-bombers must be crazy subhuman freaks, I’d love to see you in their place. Strangers in your home, and strangers’ bullets in your family’s dead bodies.. I’m sure you’ll all think wanting to take revenge so badly is still crazy when you lose what they have lost.

  13. ito
    January 25, 2008 at 4:16 am

    I bet that when the grenade goes off the “skilled” player says something that sounds offensive to some ( : So if he can’t win then the other one can’t either. Makes sense if you agree that this is all that you can achieve. If it is good enough for you. It is like a getting the “reward” before you do something. Makes you all giddy knowing that you’ve brought the big tough superman down a notch. And that’s why you do it. Because it is, in your view, the only way you can make an impact, make a difference. The only way you are not a helpless victim. That’s at least how I understand this analogy.


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